If you’re like most average Americans, recycling has become a normal part of your life. At a minimum, you recycle your newspapers and aluminum cans, maybe your glass and plastic too, depending on where you live and what they accept. Definitely, kudos to you for playing your part. Recycling is very important and sadly only about 25% of the recyclable material produce in this country is actually recycled. That number is way too low. But there’s something else amiss here. Recycling falls short in many ways, the most obvious of which is that not everything can be recycled. What can you do with the vast majority of materials and packaging that is non-recyclable? Sure, you can, like many people, just shrug your shoulders, tossing it away, since there isn’t another option, but since you’re a fan of Dr. Greene, I know you want a better option!
Luckily there is another way. Upcycling! Taking something and repurposing it for the same or higher value purpose. An increasing number of companies are creating amazing products out of what would otherwise been waste.
Recycling, as in anything, is a business. The companies processing what you put out on your curb need to make money. And for many materials, plastic bottles a chief example, they’re just not that profitable, as recyclers get paid by the pound. When demand for post-consumer plastic goes down, recyclers start going out of business and municipal and state governments get stuck with the bill. This means recycling is dependent on demand for raw materials. If that demand goes away, so does recycling. Luckily there are an increasing number of companies, like GreenSmart that recycle plastic bottles into fabric, used for laptop sleeves and the like. But even then, it takes a fair amount of energy to sort, melt, and comb that material into fabric.
Think about this a moment: What could you, or a company taking what you give them, do to directly reuse something? That bottle in your hand, what else could it contain? How can that bottle, in that shape continue to have value? That’s upcycling. That’s how Terracycle, where I work, started. We created worm poop compost, and ended up using the bottles we found in bins in the neighborhood, cleaning and relabeling them, and voila, a soda bottle became a vessel for gardening supplies. What other common materials could be reused in this manner? Look around and start thinking about it, I’d bet you’ll be surprised what you come up with and be all means please share with us your ideas!